Thoughts from the book Essentialism

My summer of books is going pretty well so far; I’ve finished 4 and am 1/2 way through 5, which is my first fiction book of the summer. Last week at the beach, I flew through Essentialism, which I was excited to read. The general idea of the book is to make yourself an essentialist by saying Yes to the things you truly want to do, and no the things you feel like you have to for whatever reason. The short of it is I highly recommend the book. Here are some of my takeaways.

It’s About Work/Life Balance

Work/Life balance has been on my mind a lot lately. When I was a single man I didn’t mind working day and night. I was usually engergized by it to be honest?— I liked doing the day job and spending nights working on pet projects. That changed when I started dating the woman who is now my wife. I was willing to give up side project time to spend time with her. Now that we have a daughter, I’m even more willing to forgo that time. My daughter is the coolest.

How could I not?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my side projects before I made them my full time gig. I managed to find time around my day job and the family to do them. But at some points, by the nature of agency life, that got harder to do. I’d have to choose between side projects and family time. Family time always wins. I mean, look at that baby!

Why am I telling you all this? Because Essentialism talks about finding balance. The author, Greg McKeown, doesn’t necessarily come out and say, “You need to find the right work/life balance.” But he does give you a framework for deciding what’s more important to you.

Too Much Heroism

On that same token, the book confirmed for me what I already knew?— there’s too much of a “heroism” culture, at least in America. Especially in my field.

Working 12–16 hour days constantly is not a badge of honor.

…Neither is forfeiting sleep or family time. Essentialism talks about this and how important it is to find the right balance by saying, “No.”

To some extent, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’m already a bit of an essentialist. McKeown talks about how he at one point didn’t say no to client meeting just days after his daughter was born. Taking the opposite approach, I said no to any meeting that was put on my calendar that took place before my family leave ended, including one 2 days before.

I should say that wasn’t a chronic problem at my old company. It happened twice, close to the end of my leave. No one gave me guff for saying declining.

Less But Better

That’s the anthem of the book. It’s one I can really level with because I feel like I try to do too much, too fast, and end up with subpar work. It’s what really sold me on the idea of being an essentialist.

How I’m not an Essentialist

Like I said, I’m already a bit of an essentialist. I value sleep (now more that I’m a dad), I like to have fun, and I can say no to things I don’t think are right for me. But I do have some things I can fix.

My biggest offense is I can be distracted by my own ideas, leaving what I’m currently working on to the wayside. As a result, I have lots of half-coded projects, pages and pages of ideas, and I do not spend enough time on my main business. My goal (after I finish at least one course I have mostly developed) is to look at all my ideas, nix most of them, and rank the rest. I will make the #1 project on the list my priority until it is finish. Then repeat.

Fun aside: McKeown points on that “prioritize” is a very recent word, and breaks form the actual meaning of priority, which is, “The most important.”

I’m excited for this and intent to have my mastermind group hold me accountable to working only on my priority for new work, and the must-dos for any existing projects, which includes:

  • My podcast
  • Content to promote my projects
  • Support for my students

This will also be a difficult task for me; I like pursuing ideas, even when they are not fully-formed. But again, this was something I was good at practicing as an employee. When presented with mutilple “priority” projects, I would always ask, “What is going to get ignored while I work on this?”

I Like Being Liked

I am a crowd-pleaser. I like when people like me, sometimes to a fault. Because of that, I will say yes to things when I shouldn’t. I’m going to be better about that, and I think it is something I will be able to overcome easily. As it turns out, I’m pretty candid too (also sometimes to a fault).

I’m also a “stand by your man” sort of person. By that I mean, if someone I’m close with needs something, I’m willing to help out where I can. This is something I love about myself, but I will also need to be more selective about my choices. I have some ideas on how I will do that.

I’m Attached to my Phone

Of all my unhealthy habits, the worst is that I check my phone as soon as I wake up, even if I wake up in the middle of the night. I check email, Twitter, and Facebook before putting it down. I need to stop doing this; ultimately I need to implement a “no phone for the first hour I’m awake policy.” My next task will help with this.

Coming Up with a Routine

I’m in desperate need of this one, and it is a tenant of becoming an essentialist. A routine will help me normalize my day, keep me honest to what I’ve deemed essential, and make sure I’m taking care of myself. This is especially important now that I’m on my own, employment-wise.

Here’s what I want to work into my routine:

  • Morning walks with my daughter
  • Going to the gym 2x a week
  • Reading for 30–60 minutes each night
  • Completing 1 online course a month

Right now I’m very focused on work and getting my business up and running in a way that I’m generating a comfortable amount of income. But the above activities will help keep my mind refreshed. It will also give me some much needed time away from the screen.

The Slowest Hiker

I won’t ruin the story in-case you intend on reading the book, but I liked the idea of finding my “slowest hiker.” Basically, identify the thing that is slowing me down, and make adjustments around that. If it’s writing content or creating videos, which I need to do, what I can do to improve my process and accommodate?

Should You Read Essentialism?

If you find yourself stuck, stressed, and overworked, then yes. If you get analysis paralysis, then yes. Or if you want a small push to make better decisions, then yes.

I’m a big fan. I think you will be too.


Thoughts from the book Essentialism was originally published in Thoughts from Joe Casabona on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.